When you need information and you don’t have it – research is a way to find the knowledge you need to move forward. This begs the question: How do you know if you don’t have it? Here are some tips for determining what’s potentially out there or if you need to begin from scratch.
Define exactly what you need. This is a critical step in determining if you have the right information or not. It sounds simple and it can be if you invest the time to outline what information you currently have and what information you don’t. Clearly, state the question(s) you are trying to answer and these will be your key research objectives.
Access what you have internally and I mean dive-in and look through old files and archives to see if what you need is there. If you are looking for a list of potential competitors, for example, think about what you already know. Do you already have an old list archived you can update? When was the last time you did an inventory of your competition? Has the competitive landscape changed or not? And, if you work in a big company you may find there are information silos and you may actually have what you need, it is merely held in another department. Start talking to colleagues and asking if historically they think the company has what you are looking for or not. Let’s not forget that knowledge is power – so find the people with the power and ask them to help you find what you need.
Go online and check more than one search engine. Sure Google is great and Alta Vista is an alternative that finds other things. So do Bing, Ask, and Yahoo! Even if your company doesn’t subscribe to a service like Lexis-Nexis, which is a searchable directory of online sources there are very powerful new search engines available and you might want to check out: Dogpile, Scoopler (Beta), and Wolfram Alpha. There is actually very little overlap between the usual search engines and it is less than 1% according to research conducted for Dogpile. Try different keywords so you don’t miss something if you are not using the most current search words or the industry has changed and now the new buzz word is something you don’t currently use in your company jargon.
Has someone else already done the research and is willing to sell it? You may need something that already exists rather than creating it yourself. If you are looking for industry-specific information you may be able to purchase a report online because it is syndicated data, which is research that has already been completed and is being sold to anyone who would like to purchase it. Consider this example, you are looking to introduce a product and you do not know what size the industry is and if there are enough people in the population who could be potential buyers for your product. You want to understand if launching the product is feasible or not. If you knew more about the industry you could estimate the potential market size or perhaps it may already be included in a syndicated research report. Two points you want to remember are:
- It is important that you gauge if the report really has the information you want and when the research was conducted. Based on my past experiences the report may be too old to be useful and the data has decayed – it doesn’t reflect the market today.
- Read the table of contents and ask clarifying questions to ensure the data you need is actually included in the report. The challenge when conducting a study for anyone is that it is difficult to predict and deliver a report that has everything someone wants in it and many of them sound like they might have it all. Trust me – they don’t.
- Once you have collected all of the data that is available consider if you have what you need now. If your answer is a resounding no then it is likely you will need primary Marketing Research to get the answer. This is research created from scratch and it is designed to answer your questions. This may be as simple as a 10 question online survey or as strategic as determining the positioning of your product. If it sounds like there are potentially many choices here -you are correct and it sounds like an excellent topic when it is my turn to write my next blog!